Women's education and development

The socioeconomic impact of female education constitutes a significant area of research within international development. Increases in the amount of female education in regions tends to correlate with high levels of development. Some of the effects are related to economic development. Women's education increases the income of women and leads to growth in GDP. Other effects are related to social development. Educating girls leads to a number of social benefits, including many related to women's empowerment.


Recent research in human development has established a strong link between women's education and international development. International development is an academic discipline concerned with the social and economic progress in impoverished regions. In particular, researchers seek to determine what factors explain differences in rates of development. Women's education is one of the major explanatory variables behind the rates of social and economic development,[1] and has been shown to have a positive correlation with both.[2][3] According to notable economist Lawrence Summers, “investment in the education of girls may well be the highest-return investment available in the developing world.”[2] Closing gender disparity is also one of the U.N. Millennium Developmental Goals.[4]


There are multiple ways researchers measure the effects of women's education on development. Typically, studies concern themselves with the gender gap between the education levels of boys and girls and not simply the level of women's education.[2][5] This helps to distinguish the specific effects of women's education from the benefits of education in general. Note that some studies, particularly older ones, do simply look at women's total education levels.[3] One way to measure education levels is to look at what percentage of each gender graduates from each stage of school. A similar, more exact way is to look at the average number of years of schooling a member of each gender receives. A third approach uses the literacy rates for each gender, as literacy is one of the earliest and primary aims of education.[2] This provides an idea of not just how much education was received but how effective it was.

The most common way to measure economic development is to look at changes in growth of GDP. In order to ensure that a connection holds, correlations are analyzed across different countries over different periods of time. Typically the result given is a relatively steady average effect, although variation over time can also be measured.[6] The benefits of education to an individual can also be analyzed. This is done by first finding the cost of education and the amount of income that would have been earned during years enrolled in school. The difference between the sum of these two quantities and the total increase in income due to education is the net return.[6]

Effects on economic development

Both individuals and countries benefit from women's education. Individuals who invest in education receive a net monetary gain over the course of their lifetime.[5] According to Harry Patrinos, lead education economist at the World Bank,[7] “the profitability of education, according to estimates of private rate of return, is indisputable, universal, and global.”[6] The principle holds particularly for women, who can expect a 1.2% higher return than men on the resources they invest in education.[5] Providing one extra year of education to girls increases their wages by 10-20%.[8] This increase is 5% more than the corresponding returns on providing a boy with an extra year of schooling.[8]

This individual monetary gain creates an increase in the overall economic productivity of a country. Girls are underrepresented in schooling, meaning that investments aimed specifically at educating women should produce bigger dividends.[9] Although investment in women's education is not present everywhere, David Dollar and Roberta Gatti present findings that show this decision along with other failures to invest in women are not “an efficient economic choice for developing countries” and that "countries that under-invest grow more slowly.”[3] Looking holistically at the opportunity cost of not investing in girls, the total missed GDP growth is between 1.2% and 1.5%.[10] When looking at different regions, it is estimated that 0.4-0.9% of the difference in GDP growth is accounted for solely by differences in the gender gap in education.[1] The effect of the educational gender gap is more pronounced when a country is only moderately poor.[3] Thus the incentive to invest in women goes up as a country moves out of extreme poverty.[3]

In addition to total economic growth, women's education also increases the equitability of the distribution of wealth in a society. Increased women's education is important for achieving this as it targets the impoverished women, a particularly disadvantaged group.[11] There is also evidence that lower gender disparity in educational attainment for a developing country correlates with lower overall income disparity within society.[11]

Effects on social development

Women's education leads to significant social development. Some of the most notable social benefits include decreased fertility rates and lower infant mortality rates, and lower maternal mortality rates.[2] Closing the gender gap in education also increases gender equality, which is considered important both in itself and because it ensures equal rights and opportunities for people regardless of gender.[12] Women's education has cognitive benefits for women as well.[13] Improved cognitive abilities increase the quality of life for women[12] and also lead to other benefits. One example of this is the fact that educated women are better able to make decisions related to health, both for themselves and their children.[13] Cognitive abilities also translate to increased political participation among women.[13] Educated women are more likely to engage in civic participation and attend political meetings, and there are several instances in which educated women in the developing world were able to secure benefits for themselves through political movements.[8][13] Evidence also points to an increased likelihood of democratic governance in countries with well-educated women.[8]

There are also benefits relating to the woman’s role in the household. Educated women have been found to experience less domestic violence, regardless of other social status indicators like employment status.[14] Women with an education are also more involved in the decision-making process of the family and report making more decisions over a given time period.[8][13] In particular, these benefits extend to economic decisions.[13] Besides the intrinsic value of increasing a woman's agency,[13] having women play a more active role in the family also brings about social benefits for family members. In a household where the mother is educated, children and especially girls are more likely to attend school.[2][15] In households where a mother is not educated, adult literacy programs can indirectly help to teach mothers the value of education and encourage them to send their children to school.[15] There are also a number of other benefits for children associated with having an educated mother over an educated father, including higher survival rates and better nutrition.[9]

Limitations of impact

There are some cases in which women's education has less of an effect on development. Economically, the benefits of investing in women are much smaller in areas facing high levels of poverty.[3] Also, in some cases the education women receive is of much lower quality than what men receive, lowering its effectiveness.[13] This phenomenon can be accompanied by the so-called hidden curriculum in schools, where certain values are reinforced.[13] Emphasis on the superiority of boys can cause educated women to pass up economic opportunities in favor of lower-paying traditionally female jobs, with poor economic and social consequences.[13] There are also situations in which women's education helps development on the macro-scale but is inefficient for a family. In societies where women are married off and leave the family while men stay back and take care of their parents, investing in sons is more valuable to parents. Additionally, while investing in women's education has a higher overall return when looking at all levels of education, through primary school investing in men has a higher rate of return.[5] This gives families who are only planning to send their children to primary school incentives to invest in their sons' education over their daughters' education. Socially, societal gender roles may stifle the ability of women's education to improve gender equality for women.[13] This is particularly the case when education for women is only seen culturally as a tool for making women more attractive wives.[13]

Some researchers don't claim that women's education necessarily has little effect on development, but instead question the methodologies of the research showing that it has a sizeable effect. One issue that researchers acknowledge is the difficulty in comparing education levels.[11] The same number of years of schooling in two different countries may have very different educational content. Similarly, what is termed ‘primary school’ in different country may vary widely. Also, while extensive information for education in developed countries exists, data is only available for a small number of developing countries.[11] This brings into question to what extent the results can be generalized for all developing countries.[11] Additionally, while the pure economic benefits are relatively uncontroversial, there is some discrepancy over how to measure the social benefits, with some variability between studies.[5]

See also


  1. ^ a b Klasen, Stephan. "Low Schooling for Girls, Slower Growth for All? Cross-Country Evidence on the Effect of Gender Inequality in Education on Economic Development." The World Bank Economic Review 16, no. 3 (2002): 345-373.
  2. ^ a b c d e f King, Elizabeth M., and M. Anne Hill. Women's education in developing countries barriers, benefits, and policies. Baltimore: Published for the World Bank [by] the Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Dollar, David, and Roberta Gatti. Gender Inequality, Income, and Growth: Are Good Times Good for Women?. Washington D.C.: The World Bank, 1999.
  4. ^ UN. "United Nations Millennium Development Goals." UN News Center. http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/gender.shtml (accessed November 24, 2013).
  5. ^ a b c d e Psacharopoulos, George, and Harry Anthony Patrinos. "Returns To Investment In Education: A Further Update." Education Economics 12, no. 2 (2004): 111-134.
  6. ^ a b c Patrinos, Harry. "Returns to Education: The Gender Perspective." In Girls' Education in the 21st Century: gender equality, empowerment, and economic growth. Washington DC: World Bank, 2008. 53-66.
  7. ^ http://www.worldbank.org/en/about/people/harry-patrinos
  8. ^ a b c d e Levine, Ruth, Cynthia Lloyd, Margaret Greene, and Caren Grown. Girls count: a global investment & action agenda. Washington, DC: Center for Global Development, 2008.
  9. ^ a b Schultz, T. Paul. Why governments should invest more to educate girls. New Haven, CT: Economic Growth Center, Yale University, 2001.
  10. ^ Chaaban, Jad, and Wendy Cunningham. Measuring the economic gain of investing in girls: the girl effect dividend. Washington, D.C.: The World Bank, 2011.
  11. ^ a b c d e Hanushek, Eric. "Schooling, Gender Equity, and Economic Outcomes." In Girls' education in the 21st century: gender equality, empowerment, and economic growth. Washington DC: World Bank, 2008. 23-40
  12. ^ a b Nussbaum, Martha. Creating capabilities: The Human Development Approach. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Kabeer, Naila. "Gender Equality And Women's Empowerment: A Critical Analysis Of The Third Millennium Development Goal." Gender & Development 13, no. 1 (2005): 13-24.
  14. ^ Sen, Purna. "Enhancing Women's Choices In Responding To Domestic Violence In Calcutta: A Comparison Of Employment And Education." The European Journal of Development Research 11, no. 2 (1999): 65-86.
  15. ^ a b Birdsall, Nancy, Ruth Levine, and Amina Ibrahim. "Towards Universal Primary Education: Investments, Incentives, And Institutions." European Journal of Education 40, no. 3 (2005): 337-349.
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